Power belongs to the People
By Anand Prabu Pathanjali
From the very early days of the Dharnai project, right from early 2013, the firm belief of a community-owned, people-powered decentralised renewable energy system was the main agenda of the Dharnai solar microgrid model.
The people in the village though come from different caste and political inclinations but were strongly united by the cause for need of electricity. This has been the strongest motivation for us and thus a Village Electrification Committee (VEC) was formed unanimously with each of the clusters, namely Dharnai, Bishunpur and Jhitkoria, each having a 20-member committee of their own.
The system laid the foundation of a strong democratic, grounds-up approach where each of these 20-member committees elect the chairman, deputy chairman , secretary and 5 members in the working committee. Participation by a minimum of 3 women in each of the 20-member committees was made compulsory. Any decision that needs to be taken, it needs to get a majority voting form each of these clusters.
There is also a Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) that consists of 3 members from Greenpeace, Basix and CEED and one VEC chairman representing all the clusters in Dharnai.
The solar microgrid at Dharnai was designed as a self-sustaining model wherein people will pay a monthly tariff for a fixed usage plan which they will choose. This money in turn will help in maintaining the system and increase the capacity when required and agreed upon by the VCE and JMC.
Generally microgrids in India, especially in the eastern belt are powered by biomass (agricultural waste, animal and human waste etc) micro- and pico-hydro (power generation from river-run-offs). Off late, after the viability of solar, lot of small scale microgrids have been coming up. We decided to go with the a complete solar pv based microgrid with battery storage.
So initially, after a lot of benchmarking and consultations with the other microgrids in Bihar and its neighboring states, we had fixed the tariff as shown below.
Provisions were made in all the packages that households could get an additional led for Rs 40 (one-time payment) and commercial entities could put a TV, printer or a computer and use it at Rs 13 a day.
Once this was sent to the VCE for voting and agreement, there were concerns from the people of the below poverty line on the affordability aspect and after a lot of negotiations for close to a month, we revisited our tariff structure and made a lot of changes so that there wasn’t a big compromise for all the parties involved. When we reissued the tariff, it was acclaimed to be the lowest tariff for a microgrid in India.
The people of the VEC and the village overall gladly welcome the change and so the foundation stone was laid and the installation commenced. And today with Dharnai lit up, one can truly say it’s a people powered model.
(Anand Prabu Pathanjali is a Climate & Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace India)